Missouri Public Schools are Better than Ever
Written by Gary Sharpe, President, Missouri Public School Advocates
Despite all the criticism that is directed at the public schools and the negativism that you hear on the airwaves, there is little doubt that America’s public schools are performing better than at any time in the history of our nation. We are currently educating more kids to a higher level than ever before, more students are graduating from high school, more students are attending college and more students are receiving college degrees. In Missouri, the graduation rates have continued to rise over the last 17 years increasing from 75.3 percent in l994 to 80.1 percent in 2000, and 85.8 percent in 2011. That increased graduation rate corresponds to increases in the number of students graduating from 46,381 in l994 to 54,115 in 2000 to 61,684 in 2011. And, over roughly that same span of time the number of students enrolling in Missouri colleges and universities, public and private, has jumped from 275,183 in l990 to 297,186 in 2000 and 356,433 in 2011. The number of college graduates in l990 was 86,362 compared to 106,570 in 2000 and 145,194 in 2009. Of course, state population showed a sizable increase from l990 to 2009, but did not come close to matching the college enrollment and graduation percentage numbers.
We hear a great deal about the high dropout rate of students from high school, and there is no question that we need to work to lower the dropout rate. Comparatively, however, in Missouri there is good news here also, as the high school dropout rate has decreased steadily over the past twenty years from 6.5 percent in l991 to 4.5 percent in 2000 to 3.8 percent in 2011. Average ACT scores for Missouri students increased from 20.9 in l990 to 21.3 in 2011 despite an increase in the percentage of high school students who are taking the test. The national average score on the ACT was 21 in 2011, and 56 percent of Missouri students had an ACT composite score above the national average. In 2011, 65.6 percent of all eligible Missouri high school students took the ACT contrasted to 47 percent of eligible high school students nationwide.
Since “A Nation at Risk” was published in l984, the spotlight has been on the public school, and this pressure has resulted in school districts placing much greater focus on student achievement than in previous years. The enactment of “No Child Left Behind,” with its unrealistic goals, has resulted in concentration on academic achievement in core subjects and has generated improved student performance in those areas. The State of Missouri responded early to the call for improved student performance by establishing rigorous performance standards in l993 and has updated and upgraded those standards on several occasions. Students are tested throughout their K-12 school life and school districts are graded on student performance. Principals and school administrators are required to evaluate teacher performance and can no longer get by serving as disciplinarians and managers. In 2007, high school graduation requirements were increased from 20 to 24 units with additional courses required in English, math, science and health. And, in 2008, a process was begun whereby high school students were required to pass end-of-course tests in algebra, biology and English with school districts utilizing their test scores to determine final course grades. There are a number of improvements that still need to be made regarding teacher education, and objective analysis of the quality of teacher education programs is not fully refined. But a strong majority of school administrators and school principals believe that today’s Colleges of Education graduates are much better prepared to enter the classroom than those graduating and planning to teach in l990 or in 2000.
Much has been made of the differences in certain groups of test scores achieved by students in some other countries; notable, Scandinavian countries in northern Europe and Oriental nations and islands in southeastern Asia. But little has been said about the low salaries paid to teachers in the United States (Missouri now ranks 46th in the nation in average teacher salary paid) as compared to those countries or to the emphasis on professional development and teacher education stipends provided in places like Singapore, Shanghai, and Finland. Much of the added costs of education in the United States have come about because of our emphasis over the past forty years on special education programs and athletics. We have accomplished much in these areas, especially in meeting the needs of the handicapped, but these achievements have been expensive and too often, money has been shifted from other needs to fund these programs. By comparison, we may be the only country in the world attempting to educate all the children of all the parents through our public schools. We take all students including the autistic, the brain damaged, the gifted, and those with other special needs, and we welcome them with open arms.
We end where we began. Although funding shortages (as outlined in a separate article) are having a negative impact on the quality of public education, currently Missouri public schools are performing at a high level and need to be appreciated and supported by Missouri’s citizens, patrons and state leaders. MISSOURI PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE BETTER THAN EVER!